the Wicks Organ at St. Francis de Sales

The present organ at Saint Francis de Sales Oratory was built for this church and installed in 1924 by The Wicks Organ Company of Highland, IL, replacing an older, more modest 13-rank Pfeffer organ. Our goal is to repair and preserve the present 1924 Wicks instrument. It is a fine example of the tonal ideas of the Wicks Company of the 1920’s; and indeed the ideals of pipe organ building of that era. It is a very full specification of tonal colors, comprising the voice families of Flutes, Strings and Diapasons. All of the voices are designed as solo voices and used together to create an orchestral or symphonic sound.

 The 1924 Wicks Organ

The 1924 Wicks Organ

History

The Organ has been used for almost 92 years with very few updates to its mechanical structure. To put things into perspective: our organ relies on wiring, leather and magnets that were new when Calvin Coolidge was elected to his first term as president! At some point between 1934 and 1955, the Mechanical Relay, which controls the pneumatic operation of the valves, was updated. A new console added in the 1960’s, like its Relay counterpart, is also beginning to show signs of fatigue and failure. Considering the amount of time the organ has functioned, its mechanical parts are in quite good condition; however, after 92 years, the organ has begun a progression of mechanical failures that, if not seriously considered and addressed, will render the instrument beyond reasonable repair.

To the average organist, the organ is fraught with silent notes and, as of recent, ciphering notes (pipe valves that are stuck in the open position). In order for the organ to continue to be used, a very basic, yet necessary, repair must be made to the ciphering notes. Repairing one ciphering note will necessarily lead to others connected to it which are equally in need of repair.

The ideal situation is to pull the entire instrument out, replace the 1924 mechanics both in chests and in electrical system/console. It would be prudent to make any changes to the tonal design at that time, capitalizing on the opportunity to make the organ ready to last another 92 years!

Can’t We Just Get A New Organ?

The Oratory’s organ is an excellent example of American organ building in the early 20th century. The materials used to make the pipes are very desirable both in substance and scale. While the instrument is mechanically failing, the pipework is a great example of a high point of organ building in America and should be preserved. To build a new instrument to the same size and scale would cost $960,000, roughly three times the cost of the restoration. Repairing our organ is much more cost effective.

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Scope of Work

On April 19, 2016, the grand organ of the church fell silent. After some urgently needed repairs, it was brought to life again. At present it functions at 40% of its capacity.

What Happened then? Two things:

(1) The static reservoir which regulates the air-pressure had begun to fall apart at the seams. Once the reservoir fell apart, the organ did not have the air pressure it needs for the pipes to sound. The organ was therefore completely silent.

(2) The mechanical machines (balance valves) that exist beneath every large pipe of our organ are made of magnets, wiring, and leather. The leather has deteriorated to the point that those machines no longer functioned, causing many of the pedal pipes to sound simultaneously.

(3) The console needs to be upgraded because various components (keys, stops) simply do not function any more as they are supposed to due to wear and tear.

There were Other Mechanical Problems discovered.

A few, actually. A pipe organ doesn’t endure into its 92nd year without developing problems.

(1) The organ needs to be cleaned from top to bottom. Coal dust has been found in the organ from when the city used coal for its fuel needs. Dust and debris has been pulled in by the blowers and covers the entire inside of the organ.

(2) The largest expense for the restoration of this instrument will be the electrical wiring. The cotton-covered wiring throughout the instrument is dried and frayed. The organ needs to be brought up to code.

How do we proceed?

The organ can be repaired, but this won’t be an easy fix and the Oratory must progress prudently. For example: the offending balance valves can be re-leathered (a very basic repair) but their placement is inside a chest that sits below nearly 1000 lbs. of wooden pipes. Practically speaking, moving 1000 lbs. of wooden pedal pipes is a job you only want to do once. This basic repair begs the question: “what do we repair next?”. If we begin to repair one, it makes infinite sense to repair others connected to this one that are equally in need of restoration. So all of the balance valves should be fixed at the same time as they are in the exact same condition as the broken ones.

It is therefore much more cost effective to proceed to a complete restoration of the organ. The proposal that we have received suggests that the restoration would cost $320,000 separated into three phases.

This includes a complete cleaning, rewiring, construction of a new console, new blowers, and the tuning of the entire organ. The first phase will cost $49,000 and will get the organ up and running once again. The second phase will cost $186,000. The third and last phase will cost $85,000. Details are provided below.

Fundraising - Songs for Sale

In one of our many efforts to raise funds to restore the organ, we are offering songs performed by the Oratory's Choirs for download as well as the CD O Lux Beatissima recorded by the Oratory's young and talented voices.

The songs are available for sale for $1.00 each. Please visit the store to purchase music tracks and the CD.

SONGS ON SALE:

Domine Non Sum Dignus by Tomás Luis de Victoria

Kyrie, Orbis Factor

Maria Wiegenlied by Max Reger/arr. Nick Botkins

O Salutaris by Lèo Delibes

Quid Retribuam Domino by Guy de Lioncourt

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Restoration in Three Phases

Phase I    $49,000

Phase I of the restoration will include removal and re-leathering the pedal chests; refurbishment of the 16’ Trombone and 8’ Trumpet, and regulating the 8’ Cornopean; disconnecting the pneumatic expression motors and installing up-to-date swell shade motors; cleaning the instrument and taking inventory of the stops and missing/broken treble pipes. The organ will be playable again and will sound even better than it did when it was working. However, the electrical problems of the 1966 console and 1924 relay will remain. Many pipes will remain silent. (See Phase I for detailed line-item repair costs.)

Phase II   $186,000

Phase II of the continued restoration will involve addressing the electrical deficiencies of the instrument. The 1966 console will be replaced with a custom built console. The relay and electrical wiring must be brought up-to-code. The refurbishment of the wind chests must be completed as far as possible (new chests must be built for the great division).

Phase III   $85,000

Phase III will address the full potential of the instrument to complete the proposed specification; wind chests and pipework will be added to complement and complete the tonal design of the instrument.

 

This all sounds great! How can I help?

First and foremost, pray! Secondly, your financial contributions to the Organ Restoration Fund will help! Lastly, tell your friends! The spiritual and liturgical life of the Oratory is a great gift not just to those attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but to the entire region of Saint Louis.